Update on Winter Response December 2015

THANK YOU to Mayor Bouley, the Friends Program, and Christ the King Parish for stepping forward to create a Cold Weather Shelter in the Activity Center of St. Peter Church this winter! Mayor Bouley recently secured the creation of a cold weather shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Concord this winter. The Friends Program will manage the shelter, which will have a paid staff person on duty, as well as volunteers. Greg Lessard, a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends Program and Development Director at the Concord Food Co-op, will manage a crew of volunteers who will assist paid staff. Volunteers are being recruited now. The opening date has not yet been determined, but the hope is to be operational by early January. This is intended as a temporary solution, only for the 2015-2016 winter. If you would like to volunteer, please contact Greg at 228 7620 or greg@Concordfoodcoop.coop.

Background:

This news comes after unsuccessful efforts by the CCEH over the spring and summer to identify both a site for a cold weather shelter and an organization to manage it. Because it appeared unlikely that either a site or a management entity would emerge, this fall CCEH turned its attention to finding other places that could act as the “safety net” of last resort– places where people experiencing homelessness could be directed where they could be warm and safe. This is particularly important for those homeless people who are most vulnerable and who either refuse to seek assistance from City Human Services, or do not comply with the rules and requirements to receive assistance, often because of active addictions or mental illness.
In November, the City cleared the top floor of 238 N. Main Street (the upstairs of the Concord Homeless Resource Center, owned by Tom Fredenburg,) for use as a 16 bed shelter, and Mr. Fredenburg agreed to donate the use of the space for a winter response. The Mayor and CCEH called a Strategy Summit of homeless service providers, funding agencies, city government, and community leaders on November 24, 2015 to determine how the space could be best used this winter, and what agencies could step forward to create and manage the response. Over 40 people attended the meeting, which is a testament to the commitment of the Concord community to this issue.
 
CCEH was concerned that it was too difficult to predict the number of people who would need a safe haven this winter. Last year, approximately 2/3 of the people who used the 60 bed Cold Weather Shelters listed places other than Concord as their last permanent address. If people continued to come to Concord seeking shelter, a 16 bed shelter might be filled immediately and some people might still be left out in the cold. Therefore, CCEH advocated for using the space as a “warming center,” so that it could accommodate many more people, as needed. There would be no cots or beds, but people could sit in chairs and at tables and stay warm. It was far from ideal, but would at least ensure that no one would be forced to be outside in the cold. A “Warming Center Task Group” emerged from the Strategy Summit and was working out the details of operating such a center when the Mayor announced the new temporary winter shelter.
CCEH is relieved that there will be the same capacity to keep people safe and warm this winter as there has been in the past, when the Cold Weather Shelters were operated by First and South Congregational Churches, and we are relieved that people will be able to lie down and sleep much more comfortably than sitting in a “warming center.” We are tremendously grateful to the Mayor for his persistent effort!
 
Looking Ahead:
This experience of trying to identify places where people experiencing homelessness can go to be safe and warm in the winter underscored the gap that exists in Concord regarding homeless people with active addictions and/or certain felony convictions: there is currently no shelter in Concord that serves this population. This is true yearround, but it becomes more obvious, and more deadly, in the winter months. The Salvation Army McKenna House, which will soon be expanding from 26 beds to 42 beds, does not allow anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or anyone on the sex offender registry. The Friends Emergency Shelter and Concord Family Promise serve families struggling with homelessness; they do not serve individuals without children. The other entities which serve people in emergencies, such as the police department, fire department, and Concord Hospital emergency room, are not able to serve as a warm place of last resort for homeless people during the winter.
 
The primary goal under Concord’s Plan to End Homelessness is permanent housing, starting with supportive housing for long-term homeless people using the Housing First model. We are making strides on this goal, but it won’t be accomplished overnight. We have secured funding for caseworker support; we will be working with Concord Housing + Redevelopment to assist long-term homeless people to successfully apply for, and remain stably housed in, Concord’s public housing facilities as vacancies become available; and we have applied for 10 units of rental assistance vouchers which we are hopeful will be awarded by next fall.
 
But even when Concord reaches the ultimate goal of “functional zero” homelessness, where all people experiencing homelessness are permanently housed within 4-8 weeks of becoming homeless or seeking assistance, there needs to be a safety net for people during the transition period. Concord needs a “low barrier” shelter that accepts people struggling with active addictions and/or felony convictions, at least in the wintertime. CCEH is already reaching out to agencies in other communities to see how we can bring a low barrier winter shelter to Concord by next year.